(To receive a review copy, please contact Barbara Jester by phone, fax, or email.)
Southern Italian immigration to the United States peaked a full century ago—descendents are now fourth and fifth generation, dispersed from their old industrial neighborhoods, professionalized, and fully integrated into the “melting pot.” Surely the social historians are right: Italian Americans are fading into the twilight of their ethnicity.
So: why are Americans enthralled by The Sopranos, still watching The Godfather trilogy on their DVDs, and tuning into the Food Network to see if the chefs really do cook like an Italian mama.
In Feeling Italian: The Art of Ethnicity (288 pages/10 photos; $65, cloth; $21, paper), just out this month from New York University Press, author Thomas J. Ferraro, associate professor of English at Duke University, discusses how Italian American identity, now a mix of history and fantasy, flesh-and-bone people, and the all-too-familiar caricature, has something to teach us. As citizens of the 20th century and its persisting cultures, are all of us to some extent already Italian?
In a series of dramatic vignettes, Ferraro discusses the concept of honor, the city, the job, and the mother, and explores Italian culture coming into mainstream culture in books, music, film, art, and food.
As an Italian writing about his own ethnicity, he quotes the Michael Corleone character in The Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
Ferraro is the author of Ethnic Passages and editor of Catholic Lives, Contemporary America.